The impact of COVID-19 on Caricom countries is “front of mind” for the United States as it works on the distribution channels for the 80 million vaccines it donated for use to poorer and middle-income countries.
The United States will share 60 million AstraZeneca vaccines, which is not approved for use in that country and another 20 million from the US approved vaccines which include Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer.
The Brussels Regional Media Hub yesterday hosted a media briefing with US Coordinator Gayle Smith on the US support to the global pandemic to expound on the vaccine gift it was providing.
Smith is the coordinator of the global COVID response and health security at the US Department of State.
Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Amery Browne and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday confirmed that the representatives from the Trinidad and Tobago Embassy in Washington were expected to meet with Smith yesterday to discuss the vaccines.
“The situation across the CARICOM countries and in Latin America has been front-of-mind, I think for the United States, given that this is in our hemisphere,” Smith said yesterday.
“We are looking at all regions given the constraints in vaccine supplies everywhere and we have not made a final decision,” she said of the distribution.
Smith said she met with several Caricom and Latin American representatives about the vaccine shortage.
“But I can tell you that we are looking closely at every region,” she said.
On Monday, the Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Dr Tedros Adhanom said that according to Unicef there is a “huge shortfall in vaccine supply to COVAX” projected.
Adhanom said then that the surge in cases had compromised global vaccine supply and there was already a shortfall of 190 million doses to COVAX by the end of June.
Smith addressed those concerns.
“Look, our commitment on dose-sharing is, we think, a very bold one but we are not suggesting that this is going to solve all the problems. So, again, our work on the supply side, also our work with partners, is all aimed at doing as much as we can as quickly as we can to start to close those gaps,” she said.
“And we share the concern about the shortfalls for COVAX, which is why we are also working with other countries and encouraging many other countries to put much more financing on the table for COVAX,” she said.
This country signed with COVAX last year and was expected to receive 100,800 doses which were subsequently broken up into three tranches of 33, 600.
Two of those tranches were received but a delivery date for the third has not yet been established.
In April, the US promised to donate 60 million vaccines but that was upended when the batch became tainted and unfit for use.
At that time Browne said that T&T would benefit from the US largesse but that in talks with US representatives, they were looking for an alternative route to the COVAX facility which was already highly strained.
However, Smith said that the COVAX may be the main option.
“We are consulting closely with COVAX, which as you know is the largest vaccine delivery platform in the world and is focused on particular low income and middle-income countries and with our partners to start to initiate a process to get the global coverage we need,” she said.
“We are very strong supporters of COVAX,” Smith said, adding that the US made a $2 billion contribution to that facility.
“Which puts us out front as the primary donor, we are in touch with them coordinating with them and of course we look at COVAX as an absolutely critical and essential platform for allocation,” Smith said.
“We are looking at how we can get maximum coverage,” Smith said.
“Our view when it comes to vaccine diplomacy, and I think a really important point here is that vaccines are tools for public health, they are the means for bringing this pandemic to an end, we do not see them and would not use them as means for pressure and our decisions would be made on the basis of public health data and collaboration with key partners, absolutely including COVAX,” she said.
“We’re confident that COVAX is undertaking a clear science and database allocation of vaccines, currently we are working with them so that they could increase their own supply to meet critical targets,” she said.
“Now that’s only one part of our strategy on vaccines, as we all know supply is a very big issue and we need many more vaccines for countries all over the world,” Smith said.
“We are working with producers on increasing the supply and also the supply chain,” she said.
Smith said that the component parts that are used to create the vaccine are in short supply.
“We are working to increase production,” she said.
Smith said that the US was also working on its Development Finance Corporation (DFC) to make investments in manufacturing sites around the world with a capital injection.
“The vaccine strategy is part of a broader strategy for the United States. As you know it is critical to ensure that there is vaccine uptick, but also the diagnostics, importantly testing, therapeutics and other supplies are available,” she said.
Smith said that over a billion dollars have been allocated for that effort.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has World Health Organisation (WHO) approval but is not approved for use in the US. Smith said that before it needed FDA clearance before it could be shipped to ensure its safety.
“We haven’t made decisions on allocations yet, we are looking literally all over the globe with partners and with Covax to see what the most effective allocation of these doses would be,” she said.